Right View (samyag drishti) is often the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they really are, or recognizing the true nature. Before anything, Right View is a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Sariputra said that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots.
One of the most fundamental issues having to do with Right View is our perception. The Buddha told Subhuti, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” The teaching here is that our perceptions affect everything we experience, and we must be careful in trusting our perception. Our human nature, conditioned brains, and closed hearts cause our perceptions to consistently deceive us. Our perception is dependent upon everything going on within us, and as we change, so does our perception. The Buddha taught that our perceptions are nearly all erroneous.
Right View vs. Wrong View
When we speak of Right View, it is often compared to having a Wrong View. Right View is seeing things as they are, recognizing our suffering is of our own making, and not trying to control the external world. We must look at our own mind. In this sense “wrong view” is doing the opposite; it is blaming others for our suffering, trying to control things, and not seeing things as they are.
However, many Buddhist teachers agree that most every view is truly a wrong view. Having Right View, we let go of our perceptions and attachment to them. Any view is still a view, and not recognizing the true nature of things, and thus wrong. However, this is a more advanced concept.
The truth of Right View is that we must focus the mind on the mind. Rather than focusing our mind externally on things we come across, we must focus our minds on our minds. Looking at ourselves, we see the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering. We also recognize the Second Noble Truth, the cause of our suffering. The root of our suffering is our own minds. Our fear, delusion, craving, and attachment create almost all of our suffering.
Recognizing this with Right View, the door opens to focusing our minds on our minds, concentrating on ourselves. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We cannot change the external, but we can change our minds, our delusions, and our unwholesome behaviors.
One year ago at this moment, I was driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was to stay at my parents’ house for a night, then drive with my mom from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. The plan upon arriving to Oregon was to turn myself in to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department for a federal warrant that had been issued in my name. I had spoken with a lawyer, and was walking blindly into the situation, without a real knowledge of what would happen.
With my mom at my side, I walked up to the clerk’s desk at the Sheriff’s station at 6am and let them know I was turning myself in for a warrant. They took my ID and ran my name. An officer came out, handcuffed me, and walked me from the station over to the county jail, with my mom at my side. My mom cried as the officer told her she could not hug me, and he led me into the jail.
I got arraigned that day, and released on bail. I spent the next week and a half in a motel in Portland and bouncing around friends’ houses. On my court date, the judge heard the situation, and sentenced me to 30 days in county jail. Expecting less time, my heart immediately started racing. I asked my lawyer if there was anything we could do, but there was not. My mom gave me a serious hug, the kind only moms can give, and away I went.
I spent the next 30 days in the violent criminal cell pod. Not being “hard” or very much of a thug at all, I had no choice but to keep to myself. Thirty days goes by awfully slow all alone in jail. I had expectations of a lesser sentence, and the first few days of processing before getting into general population were extremely painful. I found myself reaching for a Higher Power of some sort, only to find that my conscious contact was almost non-existant. The faith that I had been professing and felt for the past few years suddenly eluded me. My first few days were full of an intense struggle to make sense of my situation.
Here I was, a 21 year old young man, raised in an upper-middle class family with all the opportunities in the world. I had been through my troubled times, but felt I had come out the other side. I was almost two years sober, had active service commitments in Alcoholics Anonymous, had panels with Hospitals and Institutions, had started new meetings in my community, had a sponsor, had sponsees, tried to practice the principles in all of my affairs, and had been meditating on and off. Where had I gone wrong?
I quickly realized that it was only up to me to decide how the 30 days in jail went. I wrote A LOT. I meditated more in those thirty days than the rest of my life combined. I prayed like it was life or death. And it was for me. My own behavior had ended me up here, and it was about time I find a better way to behave. Rather than look at the symptoms (my behavior), I took a look at the causes for the first time. I dove deeper than before.
There are a few things that stick out to this day as great spiritual experiences I had there. First, I reached for a Higher Power with complete surrender and total desperation. Where I had tried other solutions in the past, this conscious contact was really my only option. The key to this was for me to learn to accept without necessarily understanding. As I prayed and meditated, hoping to find some lessons to be learned in this situation, I found that the lesson was to accept, and have faith that each moment can be a teacher if I let it be. I truly turned my will and my life over to my Higher Power, which was meditation at the moment.
The next thing I came across was a feeling of truly living. It seems strange at first to think of experiencing true living in jail. However, when I awoke each morning, I had no agenda. The only thing I had to do was eat, drink, and live. I didn’t have work, school, relationships, meetings, or anything else on my mind. There was nothing I needed to do. What I learned from this was a very simple yet powerful idea: staying present. I was able to pray, meditate, eat, read, and live fully in the moment, without worrying about what I had to do later. Waiting for my time to be up, there was no action I could take to improve my situation except stay present.
Finally, as I began to dive into the cause of my behavior, I found out a lot. I found that my behavior was caused by fear, not by loving-kindness. I found my fears were controlling me at times, with my permission. I let my fears build and build until I had “no mental defense against the first” unskillful behavior. As I uncovered the fears, I made a conscious effort to begin addressing my fears before they were powerful enough to control my actions.
After being released from jail, this last lesson grew into a regular way of life for me. I began meditating far more frequently, and with far less expectations. I eventually found that although the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested prayer and meditation, my meditation practice was closely associated with my Tenth Step. As I began to meditate more often, my mindfulness and the Dharma began to permeate my everyday life. My personal inventory has become far easier, and at some times involuntary.
An example of this is this story of me taking a test at UCLA last week. I filled out the first page of the test without a problem. I knew every answer right off the top of my head. Flipping to the second page, I read the first three questions, and I had absolutely no idea how to answer them. My heart rate immediately increased, my hands shook, and my head raced. Within just a few seconds, I found myself taking a seriously deep breath. Just as the increase in heart rate was an involuntary reaction, so was the deep breath. I didn’t do the normal, “Take a deep breath. It will help.” The thought did not even enter my consciousness. I simply responded by taking a deep breath.
This is just a simple example of how the meditation practice I acquired in jail works in my life today. With this meditation practice and mindfulness, I am able to notice when something doesn’t feel right within me. Rather than wait until it is controlling me completely, I catch it earlier and earlier. I’m not perfect, but I have come a long way.
A year ago today I was on my way to jail. Terrified, confused, and close-minded I entered. I came out with a gift that I cannot truly describe in words, but I feel it. I feel it in my relationships with myself, with the world around me, and with my Higher Power. My relationship with my family has greatly improved over the last year, my intimate relationships have improved, I respond far better to emotions I deem negative, and I make conscious contact daily.
A year ago today I could have never even imagined the gifts that would come from my journey. I feel I have made more spiritual progress in this past year than any other year of my life, including my first year sober. Thank you to everyone who helped me get from there to here, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you all.
There are numerous ways in which people compare Buddhism and Twelve-Step programs. One of the easiest similarities to see between Buddhism and recovery is in the Three Jewels and the AA Triangle symbol. A simple connection to make, these two ideas from two different spiritual programs tie together beautifully.
The Three Jewels of Buddhism
The Three Jewels of Buddhism, also referred to as the Three Refuges and the Triple Gem, are the three things in which Buddhists take refuge in, or look to guidance for.
The first of the Three Refuges is the Buddha. The Buddha is the chief form of inspiration for Buddhists. Through the Buddha’s life, he showed that salvation from dukkha is possible indeed. Looking to the Buddha for refuge is twofold. It is both looking to the spirit of the Buddha for guidance, as well as looking to our own Buddha-seed for inspiration.
The Dharma is the second of the Three Jewels. The Dharma is the term that literally means the Way of Nature, and in Buddhism refers to the teachings taught by Shakyamuni Buddha. The Dharma teaches us the way to enlightenment and sukkha, and away from dukkha. When someone takes refuge in the Dharma, they are essentially seeking guidance in the path, or the teachings of the Buddha.
The Sangha is most commonly translated as “community.” Although the Sangha refers to monastic communities in traditional Buddhism, it also refers to the association of like-minded Buddhists seeking to gain spiritually. To some Buddhists, the Sangha may refer to anyone seeking any kind of spiritual realization. When we seek refuge in the Sangha, we are looking to the community for guidance. Taking refuge in the Sangha includes learning from community atmosphere, relating to others, and helping others along their path.
The A.A. Triangle
The triangle of Alcoholics Anonymous is no longer an official symbol, but is commonly seen online, on chips and coins, and on adornments. The circle inside the triangle is a symbol recognized by most every member of Alcoholics Anonymous. An ancient symbol used to symbolize the mind, body, and spirit, the triangle is a deep symbol. Called the three legacies, the triangle stands for three important aspects of the program.
The bottom of the triangle stands for recovery. Recovery includes the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is the bottom part, as it is what supports both unity and service. Recovery is following the steps and the program that is outlined in the book. Recovery is often associated with the mind, or the mental obsession.
Unity is the second part of the triangle. Unity is uncovered in the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is what keeps us together. As the First Tradition of AA states, “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.” Unity is being a part of regular meetings, having commitments, and being a part of the community. Unity is associated with the physical craving, or the body.
The last, but definitely not least important, part of the triangle is service. Service is an integral part of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and includes taking others through the steps. Contained in the Twelve Concepts, service is associated with the spiritual malady, or the spirit.
The first similarity between the two symbols can be found between Recovery and the Dharma. Recovery is following the path of the Twelve Steps discussed in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Dharma is following the teachings and path laid out by the Buddha. Although the paths being followed may be different, the principle is almost exactly the same.
The next similarity is between the Sangha and Unity and Service. Unity and Service both involve being an active part of the community, both in learning from each other and being of service, just as taking refuge in the Sangha suggests. When we take refuge in the Sangha, we look to the community for guidance. This may come in many forms. Two great examples are through being of service to the community, and becoming an active part of the community. One of the reasons meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are so important is because they provide a place for us to not feel so alone, just as taking refuge in the Sangha suggests.
The Buddha is not left out either. Seeking refuge in the Buddha in the sense of looking to our fellows for inspiration can be found in the Unity part of the triangle. Seeking refuge in the Buddha-seed within can be found in the Recovery aspect of the triangle. When we take the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I like to think we are working to uncover our Buddha-nature within. When we look to sponsors, we are looking to figures that are “enlightened” in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous. To be clear, when we look to someone that has worked the steps and continues to work them, we are looking to someone who has found something that we want.
Buddhism and Twelve Step recovery go together very well in many ways, and this is just one. I find that although the ideas may not all be exactly the same, they are often complimentary, and Buddhism may help me better understand my program, just as my program may help me better understand my Buddhism.
I have been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh recently. If you are not familiar with him, he is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who teaches at Plum Village, has authored many books, and a strong peace advocate. Considered by many as the most influential figure in Zen Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh has been paramount in bringing Buddhism to the West.
Thich Nhat Hanh insists that it is through living in the present moment that we find happiness. Relating core Zen Buddhist principles to modern life is one of the many things he has to offer. During his speeches, he often rings a small bell to remind the listeners to return to the present moment.
When Thich Nhat Hanh is with is students, he often asks them the simple question, “What are you doing?” He asks this when it is most obvious what the student is doing, with the intention of bringing them back to what they are doing, and nothing more. The idea behind this is for us to stay present. Regardless of what we are doing, we have the opportunity to live fully in the moment and enjoy what we are doing. The Buddha often said, “Drishta dharma sukha viharin,” which is most commonly translated as, “Dwell happily in things as they are.” Although this may be easier in certain situations than others, we nonetheless have the choice to make the most of our experience.
Another concept that Thich Nhat Hanh often uses is to smile. He stresses the importance of smiling at the world upon awakening, and smiling at intervals throughout the day. Upon practicing this, I have found extreme value in it. When I smile, it encourages a lighthearted, compassionate feeling, and I am almost immediately struck with at least a slight decrease in anxiety.
My sponsor often tells me that my phone is one of the greatest tools I progress for spiritual growth. I can use it to reach out to other members of Alcoholics Anonymous, get in contact with sponsees, read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and one more key thing that I have just discovered. With my phone, I set a reminder every day with two things. The first reminder I set for myself it to smile. Twice a day, my phone pops up with a reminder that simply says, “Smile!” Upon seeing this reminder, I follow instructions and smile! I also set a reminder with the question, “What are you doing?” This reminds me to live in the present moment and stay focused on enjoying exactly what I am doing.
These two reminders cover very basic Buddhist principles for me. They are also very helpful in terms of Buddhism and recovery. In Twelve-Step meetings, we are often reminded, “One Day at a Time.” For me, I have to take things one moment at a time. The reminders I set help me practice Right Mindfulness in everyday life. Although I do regularly meditate as a part of my Tenth Step and Buddhism, I know that I must practice mindfulness and self-awareness in everyday life.
Just as meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are refueling stations for life outside the rooms, meditation is good practice for life outside of our meditation routine. The 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” Although the rooms help us learn from our fellows, hear stories, and learn about ourselves, we must take what we learn outside the rooms if we are to thrive. Similarly, in Buddhism, meditation has much value, and it is through meditation that we calm the mind, realize the nature of our true being, and learn to let go of our attachment to thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. However, we also must take these principles outside our meditation.
I use my phone to remind me to practice the most basic of Buddhist principles, as I am often so wrapped up in my thoughts, that I forget to smile or be present. When my phone goes off, Buddhism slaps me in the face. I am brought back to the present moment, to enjoying my moment, and to not get caught in the future nor the past.
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”
“To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!'”
“If you want to change somebody, don’t preach to him. Set an example and shut up.”
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
As an alcoholic or addict, we are often challenged by our running minds and endless thoughts. In Twelve-Step programs, we are encouraged to take action against these harmful thoughts. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a four-step path of action to take against our thinking. He addresses both vitarka (initial thought) and vichara (developing thought).
1. “Are You Sure?”
The first of the four practices related to Right Thinking focuses on its connection to Right View. Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the idea that all perceptions are wrong essentially. When we have a perception, a thought follows shortly after. A useful tool, we ask ourselves, “Are You Sure?” regarding our perception and thought. We must remember that a view is just a point of view, implying it is just from one point. When we change our point, the view changes. By asking ourselves if we are sure about our perceptions, we often are able to stop the thoughts at their conception, while the mind is still at vitarka.
2. “What Am I Doing?”
The second practice Thich Nhat Hanh offers is to ask yourself, “What Am I Doing?” This practice is related to Right Concentration. By asking ourselves what we are doing, we are brought back to the present moment. Oftentimes, we find that our body is doing something while our mind is doing something else. When we are being mindful, we are brought back to exactly what we are doing, and are able to enjoy the present moment, without thinking.
3. “Hello, Habit Energy”
Each of us has habit energy, energy that pushes us toward repeated behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It is common for us to be hard on ourselves for these habit energies. We realize we are on autopilot throughout the day, focused on our work, family life, education, etc. We must stop and smell the roses. Getting caught in our habit energy prevents us from having any original, pure thoughts. We are stuck in a thinking cycle. Rather than scolding ourselves for this, we must look at the habit energy, and let it go. Being too hard on yourself is a habit energy! Let it go!
The final practice offered is that of the Bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the “buddhaseed” within us. When we are living in our own buddha-nature, our thoughts become less invasive. We must cultivate this Bodhichitta within us when our thinking strays, and live with compassion and love. It is amazing how living with compassion and taking action clears our thinking!
“We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 46
“…Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”
-Alcoholics Anonymous p. 417 (or 449 in the Third Edition)
“In deep self-acceptance grows a compassionate understanding. As one Zen master said when I asked if he ever gets angry, ‘Of course I get angry, but then a few minutes later I say to myself, ‘What’s the use of this,’ and I let it go.'”
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
I often hear people quote the line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where it says, “Resentments are our #1 Offender.” I have taken this line as gospel, and done everything possible to purge myself of resentments. Furthermore, I try to prevent from acquiring resentments in the first place. However, after having a discussion with one of the most special people in my life, I have come to a somewhat contradictory conclusion.